New Year reunions request received by the North

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New Year reunions request received by the North

South Korea has proposed to conduct official talks with North Korea about reunions of war-separated families after plans to hold them last year fell apart.

“Today at 3 p.m. we sent a fax to North Korea proposing a Red Cross meeting on Jan. 10 at the Tongil [Unification] Pavilion in the border village of Panmunjom to discuss holding the reunions of families ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays,” said Kim Eui-do, spokesman of South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, which is in charge of all inter-Korean activities. “We call for a fast response from North Korea and expect the reunions to become a new opportunity for better inter-Korean relations.”

The spokesman said the proposal followed President Park Geun-hye’s press conference at the Blue House yesterday, in which she said she hoped the reunions would be held ahead of the national holiday at the end of January.

“North Korea confirmed to us that they received the message,” Kim said yesterday. “We expect Pyongyang to send a reply as early as tomorrow.”

The last reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War were in October 2010 under the Lee Myung-bak administration. Since then, most inter-Korean interactions have been suspended in the aftermath of North Korea’s deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010, which killed four South Koreans.

The new leaders of the two Koreas - President Park Geun-hye and Kim Jong-un - planned to hold family reunions at Mount Kumgang resort in North Korea on Sept. 25, 2013, right after the Chuseok holidays.

Most of the advance procedures for the reunions were completed, including exchanging lists of the 200 families to be reunited. Both sides also agreed to hold working-level talks to discuss the resumption of tours from the South to the Mount Kumgang resort after the reunions.

But just four days before the reunions, North Korea called them off, along with the talks about tours to Mount Kumgang, citing Seoul’s “confrontational policy” toward the regime.

Analysts in Seoul say what North Korea really wants is to resume tours to Mount Kumgang by creating a conciliatory mood through the reunions. The tourism business is considered a crucial source of cash for the regime.

Last year, South Korea did not give a clear signal that the tours would be resumed. They were halted after the shooting of a South Korean female tourist by a North Korean guard in July 2008. South Korea demanded an official apology for the killing and measures to prevent such a shooting in the future, which Pyongyang refused to comply with.

As the proposed reunions are actually the resumption of the canceled ones from last September, the families to be reunited have already been selected, the spokesman said.

In its fax to North Korea, South Korea did not state an exact date or venue for the reunions, he added.

When asked how South Korea would react if North Korea proposes talks on tours to the Mount Kumgang resort, the spokesman refused to answer. “We are closely watching North Korea’s attitude,” he said.



BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr ]

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